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Players booted from team, school

South Carolina women’s basketball players Jasmine Payne and Ashlie Billingslea were kicked out of school and off the team Wednesday, a day after being jailed on charges they purchased more than $400 worth of items with stolen credit and debit cards and also planned to sell marijuana.

Per university policy, USC spokesman Russ McKinney said Payne and Billingslea have been summarily suspended and removed from school until the matter is resolved.

The freshman guards each face five charges, including three felonies, after campus police seized 28.9 grams of pot and evidence linking them to the stolen credit and debit cards during a search Tuesday of the players’ dorm room, according to arrest warrants.

“This was a surprising event and certainly not indicative of the character of our team,” USC coach Susan Walvius said in a release.

“I appreciate the support from the university and the athletic department in taking immediate action following a gathering of all the facts. My coaching staff and I are helping our team cope with these events, and we all look forward to re-focusing our attention on the upcoming season.”

Payne, 18, of Bay Springs, Miss., and Billingslea, 19, of Stone Mountain, Ga., face identical charges: possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute within a half-mile of a school, financial card theft, financial card fraud and petit larceny.

Among the charges, possession with intent to distribute in proximity to a school carries the stiffest penalties — a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Payne, who was released from the Richland County jail after posting bail of $18,587, declined to comment when reached by phone. She would not identify her attorney.

Billingslea, who remained jailed as of Wednesday evening, had her bail set at the same amount. Neal Lourie, Billingslea’s lawyer, said he was reviewing the facts of the case.

Authorities believe Payne and Billingslea took a credit card, debit card and $25 from the wallet of a male law student at the Blatt P.E. Center on March 20. The players used the cards the same day to purchase items totaling $407 from a Wal-Mart.

The players could face additional fraud charges from other agencies if it is determined they used the cards at other locations.

Payne provided a written statement to police implicating Billingslea of the theft, according to the warrants. During their search of the dorm room, police found clothes belonging to Billingslea that matched those worn by a person on surveillance video at the Blatt Center, the warrants stated.

Police found the marijuana while searching for evidence in the credit card case.

Officers discovered 44 individual bags of pot in a sunglasses case inside a bag with Billingslea’s name on it, according to arrest warrants. Payne told police she obtained the marijuana and gave it to Billingslea to hold.

The marijuana has a street value of about $400, according to a law enforcement source.

Payne and Billingslea were all-state players in high school and part of the Gamecocks’ nationally ranked recruiting class of 2007. Payne appeared in 25 games for USC this season, averaging 2.6 points and 2.1 rebounds.

Billingslea, who underwent preseason knee surgery, returned to average 1.8 points and 1.4 rebounds in 14 games.

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.